After 12 hours of straight K-pop fandom, KCON 2012 concluded their seven-act concert with 4minute closing things out. With this role, they were the headliners for the night. From NU'EST's "Face" chair dance to a special performance of EXO-M's Luhan and Chen duet on "What Is Love," all the acts (including VIXX, G.NA, and B.A.P.) pulled off flaw-free performances. The same was expected from 4minute given their longevity and popularity in K-pop.
Pumping up the crowd for these headliners, the huge LED screens declared 4minute as "the representative girl group of K-pop" while the opening saxophone lines of their latest single "Volume Up" began. Yet, once the girls actually got on stage, there was trouble.
Member Gayoon was missing from the stage, due to sickness, leaving the quintet to act as a quartet without one of their strongest vocalists. It would make any group feel uncomfortable to have any member missing, much less one of the top singers from your group. Still, it should not have caused as much problems as it did. Right from the beginning something was off and the girls looked extremely uncomfortable, barely moving upon their entrance. "Volume Up" was their most recently performed single and with muscle memory, probably the easiest accessible for their mind and body. It was a smart move to start the show this way if they were feeling unsure about being down a member. Some of the attendees complained about certain aspects of KCON but it was still a nice international stage for 4minute to headline, yet they moved so unenthusiastically and were unaware that onlookers would be confused as to how they even earned the spot. While they appeared to get more comfortable as the performance continued (with hits like "Mirror Mirror" and "HUH"), there were still a few occassions where there would be an open spot on stage as if they needed to account for Gayoon. (Not to mention some microphone struggles)
What does this reveal? 4minute's inability to be malleable and flexible to deal with a missing member may indicate how K-pop acts are truly calculated and constructed; so much to the point that the members could not pull off a performance without the complete group. In 4minute, it seems like each member has a part that makes up a whole. If one part is missing, they are no longer whole and fail to function properly.
When they had an extra member in their group (see when they joined Ameriie (formerly Amerie) for a remix of her "Heard Em All" single) they were able to account for it because they practiced it and knew what was coming. So it's not a matter of numbers, but a matter of being malleable.
And malleability is going to happen with agencies taking care of their artists correctly. If a group like 4minute wants to perform internationally—and it appears they do with promotions in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines, France, Australia, and the United States—they need to take care of the artists better.
Much was made about the artists arriving on the same plane together for KCON at LAX. But they arrived only the day before (Oct. 12) to a location 16 hours ahead of the time in Seoul! 16 hours! For an event more interactive than they were probably ever used to that required them to pose with fans for photos, hold autograph sessions, and conduct interviews with the press. (Side note: I was an official reporter for Billboard at the event and 4minute ended up not allowing any interviews to the press [including companies such as Fuse, and CNN] despite given promises for full access to the artists).
It's amazing no other performer besides Gayoon got sick! It is a lot to ask for these artists. If they want to have an aggressive international schedule, there must be the adequate amount of time for rest. I realize this concept of "rest" may be unheard of in typical South Korean promotions, but the hard work in addition to a new time zone, new food, new air, etc; makes things much more difficult than at home.
On a similar note, K-pop acts need to realize that they need to be malleable with the international media. It does not make sense to only perform, pack up, and fly back home mysteriously. Talk about your international fans! Say hello to them personally! How do you do this? Through talking to the media! I applaud Pledis Entertainment's approachability as they tooke the time to talk to large and small media outlets alike complete with translators on hand. At U.S. SMTown concerts press conferences, every artist was present with translators on hand as well. In turn, you can also see this in the live performance arena with After School and Girls' Generation able to successfully perform without certain members. At KCON, Cube Entertainment's 4minute did not allow any interviews and G.NA gave only one video interview minutes before the concert started. If these acts want to find further success internationally, they will need to adapt and work in a way in which the media works in these respective countries.
After School was prepared for Nana's absence for this particular "Flashback" performance
So when KCON declared 4minute as the "representative girl group of K-pop," I would say this is a fair assessment of the act, their company, and, at times, K-pop overall. While there are acts that are able to be malleable (mentioned above) there needs to be additional flexibility when it comes to promoting internationally. Acts need to have adequate time to adjust to their new conditions (which means at the very least a day), an openness to the media in that country, and thorough readiness if things change or unforeseen circumstances occur.
While 4minute ended up looking much more comfortable and pulling off their performance by the time they closed with "Hot Issue," there was still earlier disappointed that may have clouded over their strong ending. As K-pop continues to become more and more international, agencies and artists need to realize and understand the cultural differences between countries to be able to successfully promote themselves there. If not, why even promote internationally?
About the author:
Jeff Benjamin is a Singer, Songwriter, DJ, Photographer and freelance writer who has written works for Billboard, Rolling Stone and now allkpop. Follow him on Twitter @Jeff__Benjamin